Saturday, September 29, 2007

Italians Can Pick Too

Today my son and I helped a friend who is preparing to move. He really dove into the work, hauling load after load of iffy material from her garage, coming up with and demonstrating alternative uses for unknown objects, and just being a good fun kid.

As we drove away, he sighed, "I'm really gonna miss her."

So will I. This friend has been around a long while, and was there when Son of Mando came outta my belly and into the world. Since that moment he's been his own kid, kind of an old soul in a young body. He's eerily insightful and genuinely funny. He has his teen moments, but most of the time he's good to hang around with.

This tune, Old Joe Clark, is one of the first fiddle tunes he learned to play -- on fiddle, guitar, and mando. He has it in him to do it all if he could just recognize in himself all that the rest of us see in him. He is extremely bright, incredibly compassionate, and very talented. And I'm glad he enjoys this music.

That fella in the middle is a guy named Beppe Gambetta. He's "the" Italian bluegrass star, here sharing the stage of his Acoustic Night performance with Darrell Scott and Brad Davis in the retelling of this trad favorite. My son is proud of his Italian heritage (on Dad's side) and so it's a fitting little tribute to him to share with you.

Enjoy one called "Banjo Clark". Listen carefully to the words. As my son would say, there's more than meets the ear.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

A Real Mando Mama

Last week I picked up the new Cherryholmes release, Black and White, from Skaggs Family Records. This is such a terrific band. And they've come a long way on this second album, which really shows off the musicianship and the songwriting within this unique bluegrass family band with a young, high-driving sound. Their live performances are absolutely riveting, possibly because the kids are just musically years ahead of their chronological age, and, possibly because there's no pressure like playing with your parents on stage with you.

As I've written before on this blog, I can't imagine what it would be like to head up a family like this. Sandy Lee Cherryholmes writes songs, homeschools her four kids, makes all their costumes, and of course does most everything any working mother and wife does. One of my favorite tracks on this new album is "My True Love" which Sandy wrote and which she sings.

It's plain and pretty, harkening back to mountain modality by ending the first half of each verse on the minor tonic. The sweet and simple lyric is the kind of thing a group of sisters might sing while hanging laundry.

Sandy Cherryholmes has an interesting life, one I'm sure she would probably not trade for anything, as busy and exhausting as it must be. I am so looking forward to seeing the whole family perform again in just over a week at IBMA. If you haven't heard Cherryholmes, this album is a great invitation to start. Give "My True Love" a listen here, and see what you think of the other tracks, including another great tune Cia Leigh (move over Earl Scruggs) Cherryholmes performs with Ricky Skaggs and songwriter Sonja Isaacs, titled Black and White.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

After the War

If my father were alive today, he'd be 87 years old.

My son and I watched all of tonight's installment of the current Ken Burns documentary on World War II. Burns deftly targets issues like race and ethnicity and milks the homefront poignancy while delivering difficult footage backed gracefully with a range of soundtrack music from Elgar to Delta Blues. The stories of men and women and their families are truly riveting, particularly when framed with the interviews of survivors. And we are made fully aware that this kind of conflict was a war with a purpose, with tacticians who knew their objectives, and service men and women fully aware of the risks. Even I didn't realize how brutal and drawn out were some of the battles of the European theatre. Italy was horrible.

I wished my father were here to know his grandchildren and to share with my son what it was like in those days. Because he had had osteomyelitis as a child, my father served stateside as a flight engineer for the United States Air Force. He continued to serve after the War. He and my mother eloped; they lived in Spokane, Washington for a time while he was stationed there. My mother always said she learned how to make proper refried beans from a Mexican couple who were US citizens and also stationed in Spokane.

It was a crazy time. Today is also crazy, but in a different way. People take so much for granted now and enough is never enough. By 1944 standards, I would be considered very well off, with a three-bedroom home, a car, and a job that helps me to take care of my two children. Their education is my number one priority but it seems a distant reality. At least I have my home to wager, although it's a good thing no one is headed to Harvard tomorrow with the housing market as it is.

When I hear the stories told in Burns' film, I feel vastly fortunate. I have all my siblings. No one in my immediate family was killed in any war, although I have relatives who were badly injured and a cousin on my father's side who managed narrowly to escape the fate of some of his comrades strifed through at Pearl Harbor. My oldest brother escaped Vietnam by virtue of his unbearable hay fever which in the jungles of Southeast Asia would alone have been enough to kill him.

After tonight's episode, I looked at my son who seemed a bit shell shocked and reminded him that there was a time when America knew what war was for, and the world knew and everyone pretty much was all in. Hitler was a monster. Japan was overambitious and paid a horrible price that taught the entire world a serious lesson about nuclear warfare. What a horrible discovery that was. Then, people really scrimped, put anything extra toward ending the war, and felt fortuitous if anybody got to go to college. Today, most Americans are completely over their heads in personal debt and just trying to get by while living mostly obliviously, unable to cope much with todays brutal and endless war in Iraq. It's no wonder today's homefront families feel overlooked and abandoned; most other Americans are fighting their own psychological wars against the implosion of their psyches and their families.

Bluegrass music really didn't "happen" until after World War II. Up until that time it remained an entirely noncommercial venture and served primarily as dance and entertainment. But once the boom came along, what started as early country music with the Carter Family was taken in any number of directions by the likes of Ralph and Carter Stanley and Bill Monroe, and another Post WWII Boom was born.

It's hard to imagine getting through a horrible time like World War II without bluegrass music. But music of all other kinds surely was of great comfort to the boys in the foxholes and their families back home, to the nurses gluing GIs back together and to Rosie the Riveter back in Waterbury, Connecticut making more rounds of ammo. And many many millions of people did make it through. And they never would have felt anyone was quite as lucky as they were.

Here's a tune from the Nashville Bluegrass Band that chronicles one man's post-War experience.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Happy Birthday Shameless!

This weekend was a lot of fun. The kids and I spent most of it with our good friend Shameless and her family to celebrate her 40th birthday! It was fun to see so many old friends and spend time with some new ones, too. We had a lot of laughs, relived some pretty good memories, and wondered where the time goes. (Shannon retells the story of the birth of my daughter better than anybody and we always end up howling.) And to top it all off, there was unexpected live music from a very fine group of musicians known as the Bell Brothers.

As I sat with Mr. and Mrs. Ipsissimus and Janice our conversation was occasionally broken by little squeals of delight as this mystery band broke out different instruments one by one. "OOH, what's THAT?... O man, check it out, they have a a diggerydoo..... No way, there's a banjo! THREE mandolins? Do we have time to go for a walk?....I have not had enough to drink to go up and play those drums, JimBob..." It was awesome.

I heartily endorse celebrating with friends and family (we all went back to the house afterwards and were treated to a video presentation our kids had worked on in our absence -- and I mean everybody, from age 16 down to age 3) as often as possible, and not waiting for birthdays. Tell the universe you want to invite a little unplanned live music to mix in with the celebration, and the evening will be complete.

One word on Ms. Shameless: she is one of the smartest, funniest, warmest, coolest people I've had the pleasure of knowing almost half my life (and just about exactly half hers). I am enormously grateful for her friendship, which came to me because she was a friend of X and I had been a friend of Mr. Shameless. Looking at our children this morning so incredibly grown, it's just almost impossible to believe how we managed to get through some pretty incredible times, all measurably intact. We were all once so green.

Visit Bell Acoustic at their MySpace page and check out the tune by that title, as well as another, "Always Mistaken," which opened their show last night. It was a gorgeous piece that brought together drums, banjo, diggerydoo, and some traditional East Indian chanting. Kind of like the mix among Shameless's guests. Surprising, yet, perfect.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

That Beautiful Sound...Is A Banjo

While Bluegrass is mostly what I practice, my favorite music to play and often to listen to is music of the Baroque period. Some of you know Bela Fleck's recording, "Perpetual Motion". It's one of my favorites, and it was such a joy to stumble across, because here united was my favorite music on one of my favorite instruments. As unlikely a match as it may seem, the Banjo is perfectly suited to the intricate themes and patterns of the Baroque partita and other forms.

Truly I love music through and through, and I love musicians who take risks and ask the "what ifs".

Banjo is not just for hillbillies. In fact, it's a damn tricky instrument to play, not to mention pretty heavy, so if you see a hillbilly playing one, chances are he or she is at least as smart as you are, with a good back to boot.

So go on and give this a listen. If it doesn't put a smile on your face I'll buy you a coffee cantata.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

I Know You, Rider

Whatever I was doing in Cleveland in 1991 sure as hell wasn't what I should have been doing. I should have been at this Seldom Scene gig at Peabody's Down Under. I was probably at a different Peabody's listening to a decent blues guitarist. I wouldn't get around to the Scene until more than ten years later.

Time is one thing you never get back. You can trade it for other things.

I'm tradin' up.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Reach for the Sun -- But Watch Your Back for Unforgiveable Curses

Don’t you hate it when the headmaster of your school misjudges the character of a teacher you know is up to something, and the result is the good guy gets killed and the bad guys wind up in charge again?

My weekend, particularly yesterday, was going really well up to that point in the story I finally decided to finish reading. Apologies to anyone for whom I’ve blown it, but, if you’re more behind than I am in finishing The Series That Shall Not Be Named, you deserve no more mercy than poor Albus Dumbledore.

Underestimation is the undoing of many. I keep thinking that it is impossible a character like Dumbledore’s would make such a gross miscalculation. Yet, I see people do it, every day. I do it, too. Our faith in human character can be blinding, our trust debilitating. People who take advantage of that, the way the dark character Snape does– what’s it like to be them? To suck the soul of humanity out of existence for their own gain? Or in my more standard voice, what the hell is wrong with people?

The other day I came out of my house and discovered a volunteer sunflower had bloomed in my front yard. We hadn’t known quite what it was when it started out; in fact, I nearly pulled it for a weed. But we let it go, and let it evolve. My son was the first to recognize it for what it might be. He turned out to be right. I'm glad we let it bloom, and that I didn't just uproot it because it was out of place. I hope my son's instincts continue to serve him as well as he heads down the road of life.

Mine, I’m not so sure about. I’m no dummy but I do bear the flaw of giving people (and weeds) the benefit of the doubt. Sometimes the people turn out to be flowers, sometimes, just weeds.

My mother’s home was a beautiful Victorian which she painstakingly decorated herself. When we were slogging through the task of cleaning out the house after her death, one particular now-estranged individual removed damn near everything, including the kitchen sink (although, thank Shiva, my sister got the clawfoot tub that had been in the family for generations). We joked that we’d probably see this stuff on eBay. And sure enough, wouldn't you know, about a month ago, one of my sibs actually saw a few familiar quilt patches float across the Internet auction block. Damn. Here this individual, to whom my family had only been generous, was swinging our family heirlooms on the ‘Net. It's unlikely that my grandmother, carefully embroidering each patch with a state name and the flower that went with it, imagined such a fate for her handiwork.

You can't stop loving and trusting people and opening your heart. But you can keep your eyes peeled and your ear to the ground on the off chance someone you think cares suddenly up and slings an Avada Kedavra in your direction. Have this old tune in your back pocket, too, and no one will know you're paying attention. It's called Black-Eyed Susie, as cut on Waterloo, Tennessee, the latest release from my favorite rad girl trad band Uncle Earl. Enjoy it while you practice your smile. It makes folks wonder what you've been up to even when it's nothing, nothing at all.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Paradise Regained

"The World was all before them, where to choose
Thir place of rest, and Providence their guide:
They hand in hand with wandring steps and slow,
Through Eden took their solitarie way."
-- John Milton, Paradise Lost, 1674

This week, ironically as I was preparing for a gathering of friends in celebration of Shameless's Next Landmark Birthday, I received some very sad news from a good friend who teaches at my alma mater. My advisor and friend, Desmond Hamlet, passed away the other night at the too-young age of 73 after a long illness.

Dr. Hamlet was a scholar of the 17th-century British poet, John Milton, author of many long poems including the enormous epic Paradise Lost. Born in Guyana, Dr. Hamlet had a beautiful, rich booming voice that carried the grace of language he was reading whether it was Milton or Derek Walcott. He worked with me and one of my best friends, D, as we two young white middle class women crafted research papers on contemporary African writers. Bless his heart, he took our enthusiasm for writing from another world and ran with it.

At the time we were at Denison, he was the only black member of the English department, and one of only a few people of color on the faculty, tenured or un. Our tiny campus was twice riveted by issues regarding race, once as we rallied the White Right board of trustees to abandon investments with ties to South African companies, a second as a student leader became the object of a series of racial slurs that became the focus of a campus-wide boycott -- joined by a great number of faculty and championed by Dr. Hamlet.

Last year my friend D was visiting her Ohio family with her husband and children from South Africa where she now lives. She and I stopped in to see Dr. Hamlet, but he had just taken ill with what at the time was thought to be a bad cold. We spent an hour or so talking with his wonderful wife and life partner, who updated us on their children and grandchildren and his work and the goings on at the university. We were so sorry to have missed him, and now we are even more regretful, I especially since I could have tried to pay him a visit on another trip I've made since.

More and more I seem to be losing the people who had the biggest impact on my life. My parents are both gone. Two of my music professors from college are gone. An increasing number of faculty, including Dr. Hamlet, are ill or leaving us behind. Family and friends and musicians all face varying degrees of illness or debilitation. Around me, close friends are losing people they love too. It is simply a part of living to live with loss. When death takes someone I say goodbye and thank you and I set them free because that's what they need.

I cherish my health and my life, and my children, and those loved ones I still am fortunate enough to call part of my life. I cherish the time I have to sit here and think quietly and honor them. I cherish what they taught me and the fact that I have the capacity to take it to the next level. When my time comes I hope I will have done some justice to all the positive influences I've been so fortunate to enjoy in this short life of mine.

I hope Dr. Hamlet has found his lost paradise. And I hope that his contributions will never be forgotten. He had an enormous influence on me. Even though I ultimately did not follow his same path as a professor, the lessons he gave me as a student and as a human being will always be with me: to practice integrity, excellence, creativity, and most of all, humanity.

Enjoy this track of Emmylou Harris singing that beautiful old sendoff, Angel Band. I am beyond delighted that I'll hear her live for the first time this year at IBMA's Fan Fest. If she does this one, I'm sure she'll have a lot of help from some pretty incredible sidefolks. I wonder what Desmond would think of my life's twists and turns, but I think he'd be happy knowing I found my paradise regained in this music I love and that I'm at peace, much as I hope he is now.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Stupidity Seldom Seen Except in Cleveland

"I just hope that some of the young people who break our hearts every night on the television news can see this. Hopefully they'll realize, if Carl and Louis Stokes can rise from humble beginnings, they can, too." -- Hon. Louis Stokes

Lou Stokes and his late brother Carl were honored this week with the opening of a museum commemorating their achievements. The Museum is situated in the Outhwaite Homes public housing community of Cleveland where the Stokes boys were raised by their widowed mother. Lou served 15 terms in the United States Congress. His brother Carl was the first black mayor of a major American city and after that enjoyed a successful career in broadcasting in New York City.
Not bad for a couple of kids from the projects.

I wish more kids could see their own potential. These days most kids in some neighborhoods are lucky to make it to 18. Even though I live in the pristine Stepford way-outer suburbs, living near a big city means understanding that violence is a daily occurrence for someone. But the degree to which the gun violence in Cleveland has escalated in the last few weeks, even I in my hardened state can't help but religously check to see the death toll the next morning. Worse, I have it on good authority from a source who deals with economic development issues that the numbers reported in the Plain Dealer are just a fraction of the murders that happen in the city every day.

But wait! There's more! In a bold move, the City of Cleveland is cracking down....on jaywalking. That's right. Apparently a Cleveland City cop can't catch bloodthirsty gangmembers, but according to this news report they can bust your sorry ass for crossing W. 6 in the middle of the street. That's a $174 fine at a minimum.

Help me understand how priorities have gotten so far out of whack that this remotely makes any sense?

I've had this great, sad song on my mind all week. It's from the honorable Seldom Scene, and tells the story of a Civil War battle that takes place after the war had been declared at an end. It was a senseless tragedy and it seemed there was little anyone did to stop it. When I hear the line, "And their mamas cried, O my Lord how their mamas cried..." I can't help but think about the mothers and grandmothers who've had to bury their young this year, in particular the innocent bystanders caught in the crossfire of gun violence.

Thirteen hundred died that day
It took ten good men just to dig the graves
They buried them shallow, they buried them deep
Buried them next to Dry Run Creek

And their mamas cried
O my Lord how their mamas cried

Well they weren't just blue and they weren't just gray
Death took both sides when it came that day
They layed them down side by each
They placed no stones at their head nor feet

And their mamas cried
O my Lord how their mamas cried

When the diggin' was through they gathered 'round
A lonesome dove made the only sound
They said their prayers, got to their feet
Left their friends at Dry Run Creek

War'd been over for about a week
Word hadn't gotten to Dry Run Creek
They fought and died right to the end
A battle that should've never been

And their mamas cried
O my Lord how their mamas cried
And their mamas cried
O my Lord how their mamas cried

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Music for Two

Sometime in the last 48 hours, an insidious and vicious bug set up camp with about a hundred calvary deep in my sinus cavity. I know not from whence it came, I just know I've been damn miserable. Tonight seems to be going a little better. That might be the mulled wine, I'm not sure.

What I hate most about not feeling well is that it's a time sucker. When I'm sick, I'm not 100 percent "there" for my kids or for anyone else, for that matter. It dawned on me at one point today that, wow, this is what some people feel like all the time....either because of allergies, or, because they're just in a constant fog.

We had kind of expected to spend part of the evening reliving the events of six years ago, but by the time we'd eaten and showered and retrieved kids from cross country meets, those moments had passed and actually the fog had begun to lift a little. During one particular moment of nasal and mental clarity, I decided to dig out my Bach Inventions and just spend some time playing piano while the kids hung out with me. I couldn't find the book I needed but meanwhile my daughter decided she wanted a little piano lesson. She asked me to show her a scale. She was quite determined to learn it and do it correctly. I was quite amazed at how easily the teaching tools came to me and how readily she accepted my guidance. We crawled up and down the keyboard together, over and over, she on my lap and both of us chanting, "One, two, three, one, two, three, four" and so on, until she was practicing on her own.

I explained that it might feel funny to learn these patterns, but that you need to know them so that when you are learning a new piece of music you don't have to figure out how to manage all the notes. There is a method to moving up and down the keyboard just as there is to moving along a fretted instrument; my fingering for mando and guitar still leave a lot to be desired and I find myself "cheating" way more than I should.

Anyway, having that time together with my daughter was a real healing gift out of nowhere, a much better surprise than this cold. Making music is such a great feeling; seeing a spark in my daughter was better than any antibiotic my doctor might have prescribed had she returned any of my phone calls today.

I was really in the mood this evening to play those old intricate 18th century exercises. I love Bach. My finger substitutions for these pieces once drew the observation from a teacher that I must have been an organist in a past life because they were nutty but they worked.
Here for you is a real pair. Banjo player Bela Fleck and bassist Edgar Meyer have a new collaborative effort out, called Music for Two. These two extraordinary musicians bring their talent for selecting and performing music from all generations in rare and unusual instrumentation. Here is Bach's Prelude No. 24 from the popular exercise book, The Well-Tempered Clavier. Since I have two copies of that, I suppose I don't have an excuse not to play Bach.
Tomorrow. After I quit blowing my nose.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Pruning the Mountain of Things

Junk is the enemy.

For a few weeks now it's been my goal to start tossing again. The last few days it's been hot and the heavy air adds to my feeling of being closed in on every side by needless stuff. But making the time to really attack the mountain in any disciplined fashion is really quite hard. I would much rather read or learn a tune or meet friends or sleep. But I know that parting with even a small pile of clothes or other unnecessary items will ultimately help ease the burden of being surrounded by junk.

Compared to others, I really don't have all that much and so the pruning should be relatively easy. I'm not using almost any of the storage space above my garage -- a few weeks ago I finally broke down and put a couple of small boxes up there, which I will probably forget when I eventually move away. I have one really small TV which isn't on much, and a collection of DVDs that consists mostly of family-friendly viewing, including a few concert and instructional cds. I have a piano -- my mother's Steinway upright, badly in need of a tuning. I have furniture, including an old chair that came from my room at my mother's house, and which my son refuses to allow me to part with. I have sole custody of three string instruments and another that is on temporary loan. I have a tons of cds and books, a washer and dryer, bikes, garden stuff, a growing collection of those cool fold-out camp chairs (we use them all the time) and a gigantic mound of stuff from my mother's house that is of little value other than the sentimentality of it.

I'm really at a place where I want to right-size. Most of what needs to go amounts to small and rarely-used items that keep getting shuffled aside, or papers that I'm holding onto for no truly good reason. I feel cluttered and want to just put the clutter out.

I've also been more careful in the last year about what I bring into the house. We eat better quality food of higher nutritional value. We go to a concert or a museum instead of shopping; I can buy laundry detergent at 9:30 on a Tuesday night when my kids are at dad's. The children have whatever they need to read or wear, and probably will be taking music lessons soon. Even the most recent birthday present my daughter and I bought for a little friend of hers bears the mark of my increasing practicality -- a Disney Princess hooded towel set, wrapped in a pink wicker basket that the birthday girl can use for storing something in her room.

I hear all the time about the acquisition habits of others. While I like my stuff, and wouldn't mind having a few things like new carpet or floors, a wine cooler, a new coffee pot, or a nice Gibson F-5, the majority of stuff I hear people investing in is just junk. Sure I enjoy sitting on my butt once in a while and watching a movie. I like it better to go with friends or my kids to see a movie and then hang out afterwards. Will having a home theatre system make my life easier, the quality of life for my children better? Will it deepen my understanding of humanity or make me a better musician or person to have a bigger tv or video games to go with it? Will it make me smarter, or more interesting to the people I deal with all over the country? I've lived without these things for almost five years, and I don't know where I would get the time to waste if I had them.

One good investment I made recently was last night's Duhks show at The Kent Stage. This is a collection of formidable young musicians who are relatively fearless about how far their musicianship and creativity can take them. And the experience of sharing the evening of incredible live music with my kids was pretty cool. This tune, Mountains of Things, is one you're likely familiar with if you are a Tracy Chapman fan. I love the Duhks take on it and the message always hits home for me.

Off to rest so I can start moving my mountain tomorrow.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Mother, We Are Poor Tonight

"The word 'commercial' is exactly what we want. We've reached 1.5 billion people with opera. If you want to use the word 'commercial,' or something more derogatory, we don't care. Use whatever you want."
--Luciano Pavarotti, 1935-2007

Bill Monroe would have loved you, Signore.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

These Rhondas Are The Real Rage

One of the highlights of my freakishly busy weekend was being able to catch The Rhondas at Taste of Hudson on Sunday. These local women know how to work their talent, sharing their subtle playing and honey-rich voices with an easy stage presence that flows from tune to tune.

Band members Jen Mauer (guitar, accordion), Laurie Howard (guitar, percussion, banjo) and Sarah Rolan (bass) all take turns on lead vocals and support each other beautifully when it comes down to their rich harmonies.

And what stunning good luck!! The Rhondas will be opening up for The Duhks this Friday night at The Kent Stage!!! That's a lineup for enormous musical fun if ever I've seen one. We'll be celebrating the Teenhood of Son of Mando, so come on out and say howdy and catch a great show. For a sampling of The Rhondas, check out their myspace page .

Monday, September 03, 2007

Music City Without Musical Boundaries

Last week while sitting outside with the kids I was catching up on some work-related reading and came across an article in Symphony magazine about Nashville. The story likely emanated from the American Symphony Orchestra League conference there this past June. The writer interviewed a number of musicians either in the Nashville Symphony or newer Nashville Chamber Orchestra, all of whom play either as session musicians or engage in some other form of crossover musicianship.

The ultimate message of the story: Nashville is a city where musicians work.

I'm getting very excited for what turns out to be one of fewer trips to Nashville this year than hoped. I'll head down again next month for the International Bluegrass Music Association's annual World of Bluegrass Fan Fest. There is a week-long conference associated with this event but my present occupation will only allow me a day or so extra time off to get down there. Then again, after three solid days of bluegrass and networking, I'm usually reminded that a week would either kill me or have me signing a lease up on 21st Avenue.

Last year during my visit I spent some time with a professor who teaches at The Blair School of Music at Vanderbuilt. He himself explained that per capita, Nashville probably has more musicians than any other city. Last week as the kids and I were listening to a narrative from a children's cd about Beethoven, I realized how like Vienna Nashville is in that respect. My children don't yet understand why Vienna was so critical, but they do understand Nashville, and I suppose that's a way of introducing why Vienna was so important to music of the 18th and 19th centuries.

Nashville is complex as an American city, but there is an unmistakable vibrancy where it comes to the music. Everyone can speak the language. Here, most folks may know The Cleveland Orchestra and at least have some reverence for it -- although many associate its best days with George Szell rather than appreciate its more recent successes. The other side of the coin seems simply to be Rock and Roll, owed to the mythologized Alan Freed and Cleveland's contribution to that era of American music. Between the two and outside of the occasional standard Pops events at Blossom, there is very little crossover and very little room for ingenuity. Conversely, the bluegrass scene here is so underground and so undersupported that even I miss things on occasion. "I miss Goose Acres" is code for "I'm a bluegrass person too." So in Nashville, while a lot of the "noise" is the hard-core, touristy country music stuff, even that is increasingly tempered by the new and interesting combinations of music and musicians as well as outreach and education that is continuously in motion on behalf of America's musical heritage. I sure do hope I get to the Ray Charles exhibit at the Country Music Hall of Fame.

While there are other places that focus on certain key qualities or periods or genres within early country music or bluegrass, Nashville is a place that ties all music together and makes unique creative efforts more possible -- and helps musicians that think about doing things differently feel a little less isolated.

This is why I find Nashville so invigorating. There are other industries there and other things to do, but essentially if you are a musician and you want to work, it's very high up on your list. And to me, the attraction of being in an environment in which what is on my mind is also constantly on other people's minds is very hard to ignore.

Nashville cats wear many hats. Bluegrass musicians are probably working in multiple acts, working on solo projects, producing, teaching. Classical musicians may work in one or both orchestras all the while serving as arrangers, composers, teachers, conductors, or session musicians. There is a lot of collaboration, in particular with the Nashville Chamber Orchestra which prides itself on its mission and motto, "Music Without Boundaries." Sam Bush did several concerts with the NCO last year, and singer-songwriter Darrell Scott served as artist-in-residence. The photo at right shows Jerry Douglas with Stuart Duncan peforming with the NCO for the Music Without Boundaries Gala at the opening of the beautiful new Schermerhorn Symphony Hall.

So, yes, it's damn hot down there, and thanks to climate change may be continually hotter. And yes, it's pretty far away from my friends here and some of my family. And yes, I have a lot of other things to focus on in the immediate future. But I like knowing that down the road there is a place that makes sense for a musical monkeybrain like mine, where bluegrass fiddlers who don't even read music get a thrill out of showing a classically-trained violinist how to chop, where a banjo has a place in a symphonic piece, where it's all really just about the music.

(Check out Nashville Chamber Orchestra's blog, Uncovered, for a sneak peek inside the excitement of crossover Music City.)

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Band Break

It's been quite a busy and successful day for my friend who is relocating. We did some serious retail engagement that included her purchase of a very cool Bose dock for her iPod. In the course of testing it this evening we came across The Band and momentarily lost our minds, forgetting who the drummer was.

Of course it's Levon Helms, lead singer here in this favorite Band tune of ours. Helm, who is 67 years old, has his own thang going....check out It's kind of amazing to hear him now.

Or, just hang out and enjoy this tune, the beginning of the end of the beginning. Or whatever. Have a good night.